Congressional Democrats led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Alex Padilla, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, and California Rep. Ted Lieu are calling on President Joe Biden to prioritize the inclusion of their immigration bill in his upcoming infrastructure package. “A path to citizenship for essential workers is a critical part of building our economy back better,” they note in the letter.

Their legislation, the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, would affect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants who have been in essential roles amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. “The upcoming legislative package on jobs and infrastructure is the best opportunity to recognize and reward the sacrifices and labor of essential workers,” their letter says.

“For the past year, essential workers have further proven themselves to be a truly important part of our nation’s critical infrastructure and crucial part of the backbone of our society,” legislators write. “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security even designated essential workers as part of our nation’s critical infrastructure. These workers have kept America fed, healthy, and safe throughout this pandemic, and they will be just as essential to our nation’s economic recovery.” 

Designated essential workers by the government, yet still vulnerable to deportation by that same government. That’s on top of the other risks these workers face while on the job. “They are unable to work from home, often live in crowded conditions with their families, work in industries with unsafe conditions, and earn poverty level wages,” legislators continued. “Thus, the pandemic only worsened their living situations, compounding on the grim socio-economic and racial disparities in our country. A path to citizenship for essential workers is a critical part of building our economy back better.”

Among these essential workers have been nearly 30,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients (DACA) who have helped save lives on the medical front lines. One of them is Javier, a registered nurse in Texas. “My unit became so full of COVID patients that we didn’t have any more beds,” he said in a video by immigration reform advocacy group last year. In that video, he revealed that he, his wife, and their 1-year-old baby all contracted the virus. “As soon as we felt good, we went back to take care of COVID patients,” he said.

The House last month passed legislation putting DACA recipients like Javier, farmworkers, and temporary status holders on a path to citizenship, but there’s been no action in the Senate, where the Jim Crow filibuster continues to threaten countless pieces of commonsense legislation. Legislators in the letter tell Biden that “[i]f Republicans continue to refuse to advance immigration legislation supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people, the next reconciliation package on jobs and infrastructure should include citizenship for essential workers.”

“Speaker Pelosi has already indicated her support for including immigration legislation in legislative packages advanced through budget reconciliation given the clear ‘case about the budget implications of immigration,’” legislators continued, “while the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and 100 members of the Democratic Caucus have also urged the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for essential workers in COVID-19 relief legislation.”

“These immigrant essential workers have more than earned a pathway to citizenship,” legislators conclude. “In fact, a bipartisan majority of Americans agree that a path to citizenship for essential workers is the right thing to do. Essential workers are American heroes—and they have earned the right to become American citizens. They have stepped up for America. It’s time for us to step up for them.” In announcing the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, Castro said that “[w]e must not allow the workers who are called essential today to be deported tomorrow.”

“COVID relief means not only addressing the health impacts of this pandemic, but also rebuilding our economy,” Padilla said. The bill is his first as senator from California. “Providing a pathway to citizenship that these essential workers have earned, through their service and sacrifice, will help boost our economic recovery and will benefit communities across the country. It is vital that the next infrastructure package include a pathway to citizenship for essential workers in order to build back better and more equitably.”

Further signatories from the letter to President Biden also include Sens. Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal and Reps. Raul Ruiz, Pramila Jayapal, Ruben Gallego, Juan Vargas, Barbara Lee, James McGovern, Adriano Espaillat, Grace Napolitano, Raúl Grijalva, Tony Cárdenas, Nikema Williams, Diana DeGette, Ro Khanna, Sara Jacobs, Teresa Leger Fernández, and Darren Soto. Read the full letter here.

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